Eighteen years after their last studio album, ATCQ return with tributes to the old and the up-and-coming, writes Will Whiting
Released November 11th via Epic Records
Almost eight months after the heart-breaking news of the loss of legendary Tribe member Phife Dawg, A Tribe Called Quest have released the album that was always hoped for, but never expected. After over a decade of squabbles within the group, an off-the-bat performance of ‘Can I Kick It?’ on Jimmy Fallon set aside any differences between the Queensbridge quartet, bringing them together in Q-Tip’s custom made New Jersey studio. The new release not only contains raw and real Phife bars recorded before his passing, but features a host of the leaders of the new school.
Merely a quick gaze at the song titles on this heavily anticipated album proves that the group have not produced an outdated bunch of old school tracks. ‘We The People’, ‘Dis Generation’, ‘Conrad Tokyo’ and ‘Movin’ Backwards’ headline a track list that combats the prevalent issue of race relations in modern America, all released only a matter of days after the unprecedented election result that confirmed this album’s propriety. Q-Tip’s hypnotic hook in ‘We The People’ even directly satirises the Republican party and its views on ethnic minorities, combined with a creepy synthesised instrumental perhaps meant to reflect the very nature of the President-elect himself.
Track three ‘Whateva Will Be’ sees the return of the vintage Phife Dawg flow we have yearned to hear more of for so long. His first verse, and probably his most characteristic, sees Phife spit about what ‘the system’ in his country wants him to be despite him being the antithesis. A cocky Phife acknowledges his ‘fourth grade reading level’ but boasts his rhyming ability, all paying tribute to his life-long strong character, an attribute that is heralded continuously throughout this album by his group members and by the new rap figures who feature. Accompanied by the funky instrumentals that we heard so many times on The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, listeners will find it hard to believe that there was such a significant space of time between these releases. It is clear that, aside from the politics, the group have attempted to pay tribute to old school styles amidst an ever-changing rap industry, Phife being the focal point.
Deeper into the album, Q-Tip’s creative genius is boosted with features from Elton John and Jack White effectively incorporated, while still maintaining a signature Tribe style. Andre 3000’s contribution to ‘Kids…’ makes for an experimental vibe which may be loved by some and loathed by others. The features on this album also work to pay tribute to and push forward the new talent that exists in today’s rap game. Perhaps the most telling evidence of Q-Tip’s confidence in current Hip-Hop talent can be found in ‘Dis Generation’, with the legend rapping “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, Cole, gatekeepers of flow, they are extensions of instinctual soul.” This positivity is yet further bolstered by a song tailor-made for promising individual vocalist Anderson Paak, followed by a technical, well-delivered, and politically charged verse by people’s favourite Kendrick Lamar. In a time where confidence in the future of Hip-Hop is often a rarity, it is refreshing to hear raw new talent alongside those considered greats in the game.
This album acts as a time-capsule in detailing many aspects of Hip-Hop in 2016. It details the political volatility of the present-day United States and the ways that Hip-Hop combats this as a genre. Moreover, it identifies those who are seen as the cultural leaders of today’s rap game, coming from the mouths of those who developed the genre from its roots. Musically, it effectively combines techniques of production from old-school and new-school eras. But most inspirationally, this album pays tribute to an individual who was the spirit of the genre, and one of its most valuable assets: the late great Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg.